Heading into the 2009 season, the Red Sox will be knocking on the door of an identity crisis, if they haven't already smashed said door to bits and crossed the threshold. They have an exciting collection of young characters that will probably carry them for a decade, and they have a small, ageing and ever so overpaid crew of veterans that are looking for a swan song season that won't end until late October.
The diversity on the team has its benefits, wisdom paired with passion, grace with grit, but it also means that a lot of proverbial building blocks will be yanked in succession out of the foundation, brick by brick, over the next three to five years. The likes of Ortiz, Drew, Wake, and Lowell will almost certainly not be in Red Sox uniforms at the end of Obama's first term.
Enter stage left, Mr. Jason Varitek.
His free agent drama has been the one that hasn't gotten any media coverage this Winter, but the media can't be blamed for an utter lack of anything to report. As the department stores slide from New Year's decor to Valentine's frivolity, gloves are oiled and caps stretched, and most likely Mr. Varitek will, in this writer's opinion, still be without a job.
Varitek's free agency poses a serious crossroads for the Red Sox organization: Get younger and cheaper? Or get wiser, older, and more costly?
2009 cannot be too much of a concern. In spite of their age, the Sox will undoubtedly compete, and play well. World Series? Who knows; it's a crap-shoot every year, and as the Yankees have continually failed to learn it is not a simple matter of buying half the league. But if the Red Sox are smart, they will know that a successful 2010, '11, '12 and beyond require diligence, temperance, and immunization against New York fever when the off-season comes.
As I see it the Sox have three options, and they all require some measure of humility on the parts of Tek, the team, and Scott Boras.
1) The Red Sox come to terms with Jason and he takes the same role as always on the Sox as Captain and full-time catcher, backed up by Bard.
2) The Red Sox come to terms with him, but at a reduced price and reduced role on the squad, platooning with or backing up Bard or a prospect that shines in Spring training.
3) All parties move on. Bard and one of the Sox' B-grade catchers in the minors take on catching duties in a pseudo-platoon move that best matches them up offensively against the day's opposing pitcher.
I have no idea what the right prescription is, but I am most intrigued with the third option. Getting back to the crossroads/identity crisis theme, I would hope that the Red Sox swallow some humble pie and gut out a season without Varitek on the team. I love the guy, I just don't love his old man legs, or his slow bat, or his agent. Theo Epstein has shown a commitment to the best team he can reasonably put on the field. If he sticks to his principles, Jason Varitek will not be the starter behind the dish in April.
It's a tough thing to accept, but it may be time to move on.